Addict on Fire:

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  • Ryan

Hawkbill Knife

You know the saying in local news, “if it bleeds, it leads”. Well, I’m going to make my first real post a nice gory war story of my addiction in which I was very close to bleeding, and fatally I might add.

You may think this a shameless attempt to grab readers’ attention and get them to follow my blog. You would be right. But please don’t forget my disclosure in my first post! Following the drama of my train wreck past will establish the baseline to fully appreciate the extraordinary changes I’ve made in my life. And if I can’t grab your attention, no one will hear my story and thus its power to do good will not be realized.

When I was around 21, I found myself in Richmond, VA. I had no family or friends there. Why was I there, you ask? It had become time to leave Tampa, so I packed up all my stuff in a U-Haul and started to drive North, destination unknown. It was a pretty absurd and wasteful logistics operation. I had begged my mom to pay for the U-Haul and her husband at the time got us the biggest one they make. Owning little more than a sofa and bed, the mostly empty truck echoed back at us like an empty house, bringing palpability to my equally empty life.  It had become time to leave Tampa, so I packed up all my stuff in a U-Haul and started to drive North, destination unknown. I said “us” didn’t I? Well that’s a story of its own. I had a girlfriend. I didn’t have a girlfriend by choice. Any interest in women was always eclipsed by my love of dope. Nevertheless one had found me and made me her boyfriend under duress. Let’s call her Phoenix. We had been in a rehab facility in Orlando together. Men and women were strictly kept out of contact, so we had no prior relations so to speak. But we were in there for a long time. 15 months. I definitely thought she was cute and I guess she felt the same way about me, although we never knew this for certain back then. Sometime I’ll have to tell you how Phoenix traveled 300 miles across the state to foist herself on me as my lover. But that’s Tampa, not Richmond,  which is a whole set of storied chapters in its own rite!

It had become time to leave Tampa, so I packed up all my stuff in a U-Haul and started to drive North, destination unknown.

So that’s the “us” part. “We” drove North, tattered sofa and bed in tow. A few feet of cargo in the unnecessarily large 26’ rig, which cost more to rent for a day than the value of the furniture. Life as an addict if full of wasteful absurdities like this.

We stopped over just about half way, living a *very* short stint in Greenville, SC. Greenville is yet another set of chapters where I picked up a felony. I’ll tell you about it sometime. But I digress...

Along the route North I realized that once I turned in the U-haul I wouldn’t have wheels. At that time we, as in society, didn’t have Internet, especially not in our pockets, so I bought an Auto Trader black and white mag in a gas station. I found and purchased a 1990ish Ford Tempo, light blue. It was a fine vehicle, except sometimes it sputtered. A swift punch to the gas pedal made light work of the problem and kept us goin’ again. Eventually, we ended up in Richmond, VA. 

My stepfather owned a construction business. He did various large jobs, mainly apartment complexes, around the Southeast. He had one going in Richmond so he gave me a pity job. It was cush, a dope fiend’s dream in fact. My townhouse and all my bills were paid in addition to my salary. This was the draw to Richmond in the first place.

The paid housing and bills weren't special, a lot of employees got that deal. But I wasn’t qualified for the job, nor in employable condition whatsoever. Sometimes I would nod out standing up, holding a Sheetrock finishing knife in my hand. It was a charity job to keep me away from the family, who lived far away, down in Atlanta.. And to give my mom a reason to hold out false hope for me to get better in the foreseeable future.

Even at a cush gig that is largely independent of job performance one cannot earn enough money to support a heroin habit. One can never earn enough money to support a heroin habit. And I liked to shoot cocaine too. This is even true for people who never run out of actual currency, because of a concept I call Spiritual Economics. But that’s for another day in my Rising Up and Overcoming section. 

The problem with being dope sick, other than the suffering part, is that you have a limited window to get your next fix. If you let yourself get too sick you risk being, in many ways, incapacitated. That could mean not being able to hustle up the money you need to get well. Then you have to rely on mercy from another addict or pocket change from passersby to get you goin’ again. Otherwise you just have to struggle through the morass of some petty con, dizzy, ears popping, puking and shitting liquid so you can get right. 

One thing’s for sure, unless you are jailed, or killed, you will get your fix one way or another. Sitting around sick for a week until you are no longer dependent never happens. I always marveled at how close yet so far away that 7th day was. Mix in the psychological need for coke and you’ve got an 800 pound gorilla on your back. Oh, and you get sick, or the gorilla breaks out of his cage, daily.

In this compromised mental state you can have some pretty bizarre ideas. We are not talking irrational thinking here. We are talking bat shit crazy. In this particular story I convinced myself that I could buy drugs from hardened street dealers using an air freshener that was made to look like a $100 bill. That’s right, a fucking air freshener.

If you think the strategy was crazy, wait till you hear the tactical implementation. You see, up in Richmond I got my dope from a housing project called Creighton Court. It was a big wide land area with smallish buildings throughout. This is different from the high rise projects in cities like

Baltimore. In those, there is only one way in and one way out. In many they have chain link fences around the open air hallways to keep people from getting thrown off, or getting

high and falling off. But as you will see, Creighton Court, with its little cottages and characteristic clothes lines peppered across the landscape, would rival the danger of any drug infested, socioeconomically depressed residential area anywhere in the United States. Even if it wouldn't be featured on "The Wire".

So there I was with my black leather jacket, half trench coat style with the bottom coming down about mid thigh, on my way to Creighton Court. I always felt cool in those jackets, and I could sell them for dope in a pinch. In the pocket, a $100 bill air freshener wafting new car scent through the cold, dry air like strong Sunday church cologne. It was the kind you hang from your rear view mirror. It was almost a ¼ inch thick. It looked nothing like a dollar bill other than it was green and sported the likeness of Benjamin Franklin. It certainly didn’t smell like money.

How the hell did I think that a drug dealer would think this was legal tender? Especially since Creighton Court was different than all other dope holes I had frequented in my career. In Creighton Court, you had to actually get out of your car and walk through the projects and engage the dealers on foot. I mean, I had robbed street dealers in cities all over the Southeast, but that’s a lot easier in a car when you can snatch and grab and speed away. Side note: remind me to tell you about the time in West Palm Beach when one such dealer lunged inside of the car and, with me kicking him in the head, managed to take the keys out of the ignition while me and this dude New Jersey Rich were trying to get away. 

So to recap, the plan was to park my car, walk several hundred yards into the projects with no police presence, cardiovascular training, or daylight, and pass an air freshener off for a $100 bill in exchange for heroin and cocaine. What could go wrong? As I would find out, a lot.

I parked and walked up to a guy I knew well. He was tall, skinny, and had a black leather coat like mine. Maybe dope holes are where I took a liking to that fashion choice, not sure. He was surrounded by several other men, maybe 5 to 6. He trusted me, so when I asked for 3 boys and 1 girl, translated as 3 bags of heroin and 1 of cocaine, he put it in my hand immediately. I kind of showed the air freshener a little, half way keeping it in the pocket and as he said, “what is that?” I took off running.

Junkie’s can’t run very far. Fast, but not far. And you gotta have both to elude a group of angry drug dealers you just ripped off. Usually, like in this story, when we are in a running scenario we in the drug procurement process. That means we are probably a little sick. On the one hand this gives you a fervent impetus to get where you need to go, whether you are eluding the law in a sting operation (I have stories for you), or outrunning a dope dealer you tricked. On the other hand though, you are physically ill, malnourished, emaciated, and do no endurance training. So you run for maaaaaaaybe a hundred yards and you basically have to stop or slow down dramatically, panting like a motherfucker. In Northern environments, the gasped cold air stabs your lungs like knives. Ever heard those stories where a mother gets a huge shot of adrenaline and lifts a car off of their trapped kid? Yeah, no, that doesn’t happen to junkies.

In this case, it really didn’t matter how far I could run, because inside of the 3 steps Lynyrd Skynyrd famously asked for in song, I was stopped and put straight on the ground, facing up. The guy who grabbed me put his knee square on my chest and pressed me against the Earth. I don’t know if you have ever had someone press down on your chest with their knee and body weight behind it. I hadn’t, but I realized quickly that it was one of the most effective methods for keeping a man down. I could flail my appendages around like an upside down beetle, but that was about it. Not that I was. I was frozen with fear.

The guy had his knee planted on what was just a rib cage, all my muscle mass having wasted away on a cocaine diet. He didn’t look like the other men. He was a little older, middle aged. He didn’t dress in the height of urban fashion like they did. He had old school, more generic clothing style, like a beatnik of the projects. His hair was natural not cut into a special style. He was what some would call an OG, being of the more senior generation of criminals.

He pulled out a hawkbill bladed pocket knife. I myself carried this style knife a lot. Not only because it was deadly, but also because it looked mean as hell. These knives had a curved blade kind of like an eagle’s talon. They were most always serrated, at least the ones I liked, so they were always sharp as hell. Not like a straight edge that dulls on you quickly. In the regular world, they were used for things like cutting through fishing nets, both grabbing and ripping them at the same time. They were very efficient at making messy, deep cuts through their subject.

He placed the cold steel blade against my scrawny neck. My man behind him yelled, “don’t hit him yet, get the dope back first”. I began begging, “please don’t stab me, man”. “Don’t stab me”. But here is the kicker. I was not afraid. It was as if I was watching the life threatening moments as a drama being acted out on some community theater stage. I distinctly remember uttering what I said as if they were lines from a script. I was saying what I knew a man in that precarious position was supposed to say. 

Before you start to think I was some fearless thug, I was not. Remember that addicts suffer from grandiose and otherwise diseased thinking. In addition to generally seeing my life completely disconnected from the disgusting reality that it was, as all addicts do, I think deep inside I thought nothing would happen to me. I mean, it never had before right?? And I had been in some seriously fucked up situations before. It’s dishonest notions like this that comprise the great lie that keeps addicts in miserable slavery.

Here’s the cherry on top. The whole time I was begging this guy who looked like he had been recently released from prison, I had some of the heroin in my pocket. As I recall, the same pocket the air freshener was in. Some of it had fallen on the ground when they stopped me, but some of it made it into my leather jacket. While I was begging for my life, razor sharp blade to my throat, they were demanding the dope back. All I had to do was hand over a couple of brown rocks of diacetylmorphine and I would massively increase my chances of survival. But the tractor beam of addiction is unrivaled in its power to drive human behavior. I was compelled to get high. I wanted to get well. So I just kept begging and claiming that it had all fallen on the ground. All the while I was obsessing about those brown rocks, packaged in cut corners of sandwich bags that had been tied closed, that were sitting in my pocket. 

Which brings us to the end of the story. Obviously I didn’t die, because I lived to write about it. In fact, I wasn’t injured at all. They never even hit me (don’t worry I get hit in a lot of other stories). My man behind him muttered something and they just let me go. I can speculate on why this happened. Maybe it was because I was a frequent customer and my lifetime customer value exceeded the $70 theft. Maybe it was because, very strangely, I had seen my man walking the empty streets on a cold night with a trench coat over a drag outfit and had never told anyone. I know this one sounds outrageous. I couldn’t believe it myself. But it’s the gospel truth. Like I said, the tractor beam is strong. Never underestimate its power.

Regardless of the motive, he was the one responsible for the product, and he had decided to let me go. I would return and buy from him again in the not too distant future. We would even ride around in my car and hit some licks together. I vaguely remember paying him back at some point, but I’m not sure. At least I lived to tell the tale. Some people say it was God. Others say it was favorable randomness. Either way...I survived.